Growing gaps in children’s mental health services at ‘crisis point’

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield states that the government should increase its focus on local spending for children’s mental health services in England

A report from the Children’s Commissioner states that “low-level” mental health services available for children in parts of England are not sufficient.

“Low-level” mental health services consist of preventative measures for children suffering with issues such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders, before they reach crisis point.

Chief executive of children’s mental health charity YoungMinds, Emma Thomas, said: “While extra money for specialist NHS services is of course welcome, it’s better for everyone if young people can get help before their needs escalate or they hit crisis point.” 

Between 2016/17 and 2018/19, spending on low-level services across all of England increased by 17 per cent in real terms. However, nearly 60 per cent of local authorities across the country saw a real terms fall in spending.

The children’s commissioner’s report shows that the top 25 per cent of local areas in England spent at least £1.1 million on low-level services for children, while the bottom 25 per cent spent a maximum of £180,000.

Thomas said: “We need to end the postcode lottery in spending, and we need local services to work together more effectively.”

In 2018/19, the funding from local authorities for low-level mental health services equated to £17.88 per child in London, where the funding was highest, compared to just £5.83 per child in the Midlands and East of England, where funding was lowest.

There needs to be much clearer and more consistent data.

Longfield recommended in her report that local authorities should be fully involved in national strategy on funding of low-level services to ensure that every area is able to provide sufficient services for children.

This report was the first ever to investigate how much is being spent by local authorities in England on low-level mental health services for children.

Thomas said: “There needs to be much clearer and more consistent data. It’s extremely difficult for commissioners to make informed decisions about local services when reporting is so patchy.”